Natalie Mering has spoken at length about Titanic Rising, her fourth release as Weyes Blood. There’s a sense she feels there’s something special in it, that she’s dug deep through the desert and knows she’s found a fountain. “An album is like a Rubik’s Cube,” she says giving weight to such assertions, “sometimes you get all the dimensions – the lyrics, the melody, the production – to line up.” Indeed from the lush strings that fade through the silence and into the bold piano chords of opener ‘A Lot’s Gonna Change’, it all does feel aligned. It’s a track that feels pulled from the old, tried and true methods of balladry and songwriting – the key-driven melody owing much to traditions that birthed The Beatles and their subsequent offshoots – even as nestles into contemporary familiarity and lights a path forwards. It’s a balance that heralds what Titanic Rising captures as a whole, “I try to be futuristic and ancient at once, which is a difficult alchemy.” Mering acknowledges. “It’s taken a lot of tries to get it right.” But as ‘A Lot’s Gonna Change’ fades out, its large and cinematic quality humming in time with your wavelength, you know she has got it right, she knows and she knows you know.
Cinematic is certainly the word here, for it informs the record on almost every level. The album’s title plays into Mering’s love of the film, the Leo and Kate romantic classic a source of solace for her childhood self in moments she felt lost to existence. “It was engineered for little girls and had its own mythology”, Mering remarks. The sentiment of belief and mythology explored in detail throughout the first true standout amid excellence, ‘Something to Believe’. “Drank a lot of coffee today, got lost in the fray, gave all I had for a time then by some strange design I got a case of the empties,” she sings amid a now familiar piano accompaniment. But as it builds, rich orchestration flowing around the central melody and gorgeous hook of a chorus, she explores the human need for some greater connectedness, “give me something I can see, something bigger and louder than the voices in me.” The inventive and liberal use of slide guitar is devastating in its beauty, capturing the central ideas she alludes to, “belief is something all humans need,” she’s said, “shared myths are part of our psychology and survival.” Elsewhere, however, Titanic acts as symbolic of greater deceit on ‘Movies’. Indicative of the false ideas of romance cinema has promised and perpetuated. “The meaning of life doesn’t seem to shine like that screen,” she sings, the swirling synth lines and electronics – a shift in mood as it draws from the Daft Punk and Kid A electronica of the early 2000s – haunting beneath the most transcendent layered vocals Mering reaches and culminating in a worthy pay-off.
It’s not the only time she plays with ideas of our loss of connectedness and love amidst scattered perceptions of the world and ourselves. The sweeping ‘Andromeda’ deals with “losing your interest in trying to be in love”, the most arresting string arrangement on the record adorning her as she sings, “stop calling, it’s time to let me be, if you think you can save me I’d dare you to try.” ‘Everyday’ bounces along with a wonderful 60’s doo-wop quality, Mering with tongue firmly in cheek pining for needing a love every day. ‘Mirror Forever’ equally addresses similar themes but with different tracks of grandiosity. Its plodding momentum, gentle synths and clicks guide the track forward into swirling guitar explosions, growing ever denser and layered against Mering’s persistent vocal lines. “You threw me out of the garden of Eden, lift me up just to let me fall hard. I can’t stand being your second best,” she croons before the repeated, “oh baby, take a look in the mirror.” It’s frankly epic, even in its intimacy, and highlights a vein that runs through the record. The tracks here can be huge, bombastic even in their delivery, but the production always keeps them grounded. As though drawing the most human parts of ourselves out of the cosmos, the idea that we are all made of stardust.
Mering’s melodies and words play the clearest and crucial role in that. But it’s nonetheless perhaps most evident in the two shortest tracks. First in the title track; a short, purely instrumental moment of tranquility against her relentless creativity, the sweeping haze of drones and washed out synthesizers ebbs, flows and fades away again almost too quickly. While closer ‘Nearer to Thee’, is a brief flurry of golden-era cinema soundtrack, strings and keys fluttering against one another as a little outro to the Broadway stylings of ‘Picture Me Better’. Mering pours all she has in Titanic Rising, her inventiveness and talent and candidness seeping through every hook and word, but these are her moments of respite and as such, we feel them deeply amidst it all. She’s called this record “the Kinks meet World War II, or Bob Seger meets Enya.” The truth of that lies in how you perceive it, but it hints at the vast array of influences drawn here and how they emerge in her own unique world beyond the traditions of songwriting she so reverently references. It’s big, ambitious and beautiful, by far the best record Weyes Blood has made and also happens to be one of the best records of the year.